On 24 and 25 May, the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator team took part in VivaTech in Paris. In its third year, the three-day fast-growing event showcases innovation led by start-ups, large companies, and collaboration between them. For the first time this year, one of the key topics of the event was ‘AfricaTech’, with a dedicated exhibition space, and conference content over the three days. Here are our three takeaways from the AfricaTech stream that we wanted to share with you.
France is more committed than ever to supporting the African tech ecosystem
President Macron’s opening keynote was unambiguous. After 90 minutes touring the exhibition floor, with a 30-minute stop on the AfricaTech stand with President Kagame of Rwanda, the French President covered African innovation as one of the three topics of his speech. Beyond reaffirming the importance of start-ups in building the solutions to address Africa’s challenges and opportunities, the President confirmed that France was committed to playing a role in financing African ecosystems. In particular, he announced that, “AFD [the French Development Agency] is about to launch a new investment vehicle with a €65 million budget in order to [support local ecosystems in Africa], by addressing specifically start-ups’ need for small tickets, namely €30,000 to €50,000”. This initiative will not operate in isolation, as the President expects other contributors, public and private to help amplify this work.
In parallel, Karim Sy, founder and chief catalyst of Jokkolabs, and a core member of President Macron’s ‘Presidential Council for Africa’ set up in August 2017, shared more details about Digital Africa, along with representatives from Suez and impact investor, I&P. The first stage of the programme was a competition through which 10 winners were identified (five from Africa and five from France), from a staggering 1,500 applications. The appetite from the ecosystem led the group to design more activities which will be launched shortly, including a competition focused on women entrepreneurs, and a challenge on sustainable cities.
Other French government organisations were represented such as AFD who sponsored start-ups for the show floor and announced various initiatives including a new ‘Digital Observer for Africa (DO4Africa)’ platform. Proparco – the French Development Financial Institution – was also present, highlighting their role in investing in African start-ups, including Jumo in South Africa, as well as Kenyan players mSurvey and Lynk (an Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund grantee) who pitched on stage.
‘Corporates’ are here to support local start-ups
Beyond AFD, the start-ups on the 400 square-meter show floor dedicated to AfricaTech were sponsored by large French multinationals such as Vinci Energies and Sanofi. The latter for instance brought the 10 finalists of its ‘#TechforHealth’ competition, and announced the winners at the event.
In terms of support from multinational companies for local start-ups, mobile operators are leading the way, as illustrated by the extent of Orange’s involvement at the event. The prominent stand featured dozens of start-ups, rotating over the three days, with good representation of those operating in Africa across verticals. For instance, we met with representatives from CityTaps (a Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund grantee) who bridges the gap between water utilities and the urban poor in Niger. They are working with Orange to expand the reach of the service in the country. Africa’s Talking was another one of the exhibitors, a few weeks after Orange announced an investment in the company through their CVC arm, Orange Digital Ventures. Afrimarket – another one of their investments – were also present.
Sharing the challenges and opportunities of the African tech ecosystem
Beyond the opportunities for learning and networking for professionals involved directly in the African tech ecosystem, the event also successfully helped a broader audience familiarise themselves with the realities and opportunities of the African tech ecosystem, through the key players driving the ecosystem forward:
- Stephane Richard, CEO of Orange and many senior members of his organisation highlighted the pivotal role mobile operators play in developing local ecosystems in Africa, from infrastructure to investment in local start-ups, but also in areas beyond their traditional core business, such as energy.
- The role of local incubators and accelerators was also featured with representatives from Afrilabs, Jokkolabs or K-Lab for instance.
- The challenges of addressing the needs of local SMEs were well covered, for instance through Fatoumata Ba’s presentation of her new venture Janngo, based on her extended experience at Africa e-commerce giant, Jumia.
- Regulators and government officials were in attendance – from President Kagame of Rwanda to Cina Lawson, Minister of Posts and Digital Economy in Togo – and Olanrewaju Osibona, Senior Presidential Advisor on ICT in Nigeria, often highlighting the need for governments to step up in supporting the ecosystem, from education to ease of doing business
- And last but not least, the role of women in the economy and the tech industry, where they are still critically underrepresented as in most other regions around the world, was brought to attention of attendees on many occasions. The most compelling presentation being that of Marcia Ashong from The Boardroom Africa who is building a database of board-ready women across Africa to address the scarcity of women on Africa boards (14 per cent), one of the symptoms of the their underrepresentation in the African tech ecosystem.
We would like to thank the organisers for giving us a chance to attend the event, and hope to be back next year for even more AfricaTech activities
The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.